This post is part of our “Story Behind the Story” series, where we dissect online narratives and their impact on some of the biggest consumer brands.
How a Brand’s Message Was Co-Opted by Opposing Groups Online
Corporate America is weighing in on the recent voter suppression laws, sparking both criticism and support from influential groups across the digital landscape. One of the brands taking the hardest stance on this issue is Patagonia. After a set of new voting laws were passed in Georgia, Patagonia denounced them and called on other corporate leaders to do the same. Their CEO Ryan Gellert stated in a letter that other corporate leaders’ communities “will have a more equitable chance to thrive when they have the ability to participate in the direction of our great country.” The company also announced that they would be donating one million dollars to voting rights groups, including the Black Voters Matter Fund and the New Georgia Project.
Following Patagonia’s statement, conservative factions originated a new narrative, calling the brand “hypocritical” by pointing out their factories and mills in China. This started when former NRA spokeswoman and conservative TV personality, Dana Loesch, shared a 2013 article that discussed Patagonia’s manufacturing presence in China.
In response to the criticism, Patagonia’s head of global communications stated that, “supporting a strong democracy is foundational for all the work we do at Patagonia. We aren’t interested in distractions from the fundamental truth that our democracy works better when we all participate and that democracy scored a major victory in November when nearly two-thirds of eligible voters cast a ballot and there was no evidence of widespread fraud.” The company also pointed to a statement made in July 2020, which announced it was exiting the Xinjiang region of China due to concerns about forced labor and human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minorities.
How Are Groups Online Influencing the Conversation?
Online factions quickly became involved with the narratives about Patagonia, which has remained authentic — meaning it has not shown signs of manipulation but is the result of real users online engaging in the discussion.
When Patagonia released its statement and triggered right-wing and conservative factions to cite their presence in China in order to take control of the narrative, left-wing and liberal factions came to the brand’s defense. Why? It’s about values-alignment.
Values-aligned factions have rewarded Patagonia by protecting its brand reputation and keeping online discussions focused on the matter at hand — restrictive voting legislation. Even as various right-leaning factions fight for control of the narrative, the Mainstream Left faction that shares in the values of the brand continued posting their praise for the brands actions around the legislation changes, successfully drowning out the noise of four right-leaning factions trying to shine a negative light on the brand.
|A set of accounts that advance the goals and ideology of the mainstream left in the United States. Includes accounts that identify as being part of a “Blue Wave” of voters looking to replace republicans with democrats in upcoming elections. Often self-identify with a blue wave emoji in their bio or account name. Tend to engage with “liberal” issues and make strongly negative posts about the Trump administration. This faction is distinct from the Populist Left, which is further left and focused on the candidacy and platform of politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.|
Recommendations for Strategic Communications Teams
This situation has reinforced a point that factions will do anything to distract from a problem if it means promoting their own agenda. Strategic communications teams need to understand the values and morals that are important to stakeholders and core customer groups to take stances on important issues that closely align with them. This will also help to determine if your team needs to address any distracting narratives and/or confusion in regards to a public statement or your overall brand.
Yonder’s proactive social intelligence can help protect against these types of faction-driven narratives, giving your team time to triage, plan, and potentially act before your brand reputation is affected. Yonder’s faction insights can also let your team know who is driving these narratives and can reveal where these groups are most active on both fringe and mainstream social platforms.